Processing and properties of magnesium containing a dense uniform dispersion of nanoparticles


Magnesium is a light metal, with a density two-thirds that of aluminium, is abundant on Earth and is biocompatible; it thus has the potential to improve energy efficiency and system performance in aerospace, automobile, defence, mobile electronics and biomedical applications1,2,3,4,5. However, conventional synthesis and processing methods (alloying and thermomechanical processing) have reached certain limits in further improving the properties of magnesium and other metals6. Ceramic particles have been introduced into metal matrices to improve the strength of the metals7, but unfortunately, ceramic microparticles severely degrade the plasticity and machinability of metals7, and nanoparticles, although they have the potential to improve strength while maintaining or even improving the plasticity of metals8,9, are difficult to disperse uniformly in metal matrices10,11,12,13,14. Here we show that a dense uniform dispersion of silicon carbide nanoparticles (14 per cent by volume) in magnesium can be achieved through a nanoparticle self-stabilization mechanism in molten metal. An enhancement of strength, stiffness, plasticity and high-temperature stability is simultaneously achieved, delivering a higher specific yield strength and higher specific modulus than almost all structural metals.

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Figure 1: Uniform dispersion of SiC nanoparticles in as-solidified magnesium alloy matrix.
Figure 2: Mechanical behaviour of as-solidified samples at room temperature.
Figure 3: Structure refinement and strength enhancement by HPT.
Figure 4: Mechanical behaviour of as-solidified sample at elevated temperatures.


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This work is supported in part by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). We thank Y.-W. Chang, N. Bodzin and T. McLouth at the University of California, Los Angeles, for their help with FIB experiments, micropillar testing and elastic modulus measurements. We also thank C. Cao at the University of California, Los Angeles for his help with measuring the grain size of the as-solidified Mg2Zn samples.

Author information




X.-C.L. and L.-Y.C. conceived the idea and designed the experiments. L.-Y.C. and H.C. fabricated the nanocomposites. X.-C.L. and J.-Q.X. developed the theoretical model for nanoparticle dispersion. X.M. conducted the high-pressure torsion experiment. L.-Y.C. and M.P. characterized the properties and microstructures. S.B. conducted micropillar compression testing at high temperature. L.-Y.C., X.-C.L., J.-Q.X., M.P. and S.M. analysed the data. L.-Y.C., X.-C.L., M.P. and S.M. wrote the paper. J.-M.Y. supervised M.P. for TEM characterization. S.M. supervised X.M. for the high-pressure torsion experiment. X.-C.L. supervised the whole work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xiao-Chun Li.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Fabrication of nanocomposites.

a, Ultrasonic processing for nanoparticle feeding and dispersion. b, Vacuum evaporation for concentrating nanoparticles in magnesium.

Extended Data Figure 2 Uniform distribution of nanoparticles across the whole sample.

a, Bright-field TEM image showing the dispersed SiC nanoparticles in the magnesium matrix. b, A histogram indicating the SiC nanoparticle size distribution. c, d, Plots representing the amount of Si (wt%; c) and Vickers microhardness (Hv; d) as a function of the position in the sample (bottom, middle, top, centre and edge). Error bars represent s.d. of six data sets in d and three data sets in c.

Extended Data Figure 3 TEM analysis showing non-basal deformation mechanisms in a polycrystalline sample under microcompression.

a, Bright-field TEM image showing a SiC nanoparticle embedded in the magnesium matrix. b, High-resolution TEM image from the region highlighted in a showing dislocations (indicated in yellow) terminated at stacking faults on the pyramidal planes in a grain oriented to the zone axis as indicated by its fast Fourier transform in c. The angle between the loading and pyramidal directions is around 30°.

Supplementary information


After yielding, Mg2Zn sample exhibits sudden slips, which results in repeated loading-unloading cycles in stress-strain curve. (MP4 36336 kb)

SEM video showing deformation behavior of Mg2Zn sample during micro-compression test.

After yielding, Mg2Zn sample exhibits sudden slips, which results in repeated loading-unloading cycles in stress-strain curve. (MP4 36336 kb)


After yielding, Mg2Zn (14 vol% SiC) sample deforms uniformly without sudden slips, which results in a smooth stress-strain curve. (MP4 25737 kb)

SEM video showing deformation behaviour of Mg2Zn (14 vol% SiC) sample during micro-compression test.

After yielding, Mg2Zn (14 vol% SiC) sample deforms uniformly without sudden slips, which results in a smooth stress-strain curve. (MP4 25737 kb)

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Chen, L., Xu, J., Choi, H. et al. Processing and properties of magnesium containing a dense uniform dispersion of nanoparticles. Nature 528, 539–543 (2015).

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